This opinion piece came in over the transom and it looked worth commenting on.
I love McWhorter, and have a few of his books. I also like where he starts this argument: suppose it’s true. I used to love to see that with Bill James about baseball clichés. Pitching is 90% of baseball. What would flow from that? Wouldn’t pitchers command higher salaries, then, as quarterbacks do in football? Or perhaps, a few would have the bulk of the biggest contracts? In fact, this does not happen. Therefore, our first conclusion is that whether or not pitching actually is 90% of baseball, no one is spending their money as if that were true – including the people who made the original claim. This freed up a lot of space for the statistical and reasoning arguments he wanted to examine next.
The problem is, McWhorter doesn’t quite examine his supposition. He looks at parts of the issue but evades others, or at least, does not answer them here. He moves to the question of Why would people want to talk about it? This overlaps with the question What if the race-IQ gap is at least partly genetic? But it is not the same question. He discusses what motive people could have for discussing the issue (paragraphs 22-25).
You know how much I love discussing motive before establishing facts.
When you get through all the on-the-one-hand, one-the-other-hand caveats that he puts in to show he really is listening to all sides, and he really is trying to be fair, he gives us the following: we shouldn’t talk about it because no one is going to accept it. Nice people think the possible responses to believing there could be more than a small genetic component are too deplorable, so there will be no practical effect. I think that is both true, and a terrible, evasive approach. It likely is true that no one is going to believe it so just shut up. However, liberalism in the post-enlightenment sense has scored its cultural victories by doing just the opposite: yes we will too talk about women being able to vote/hold property/go to college/fly jet planes, whether people want to hear it or not. Yes we will too challenge public schools leading children in prayer even though it enjoys 90% approval rate.
BTW, as I said, I like McWhorter and I don’t think his boilerplate niceness is insincere. He makes good points about non-black populations showing some of the same patterns, also attributing those to culture.* He has been friends with Charles Murray (who, despite his reputation among liberals, believes that culture is an influence in behavior, and genetics are only a portion). Yet he doesn’t answer the core question, “What if it’s at least partly true and we’re just stuck with it?”
If it were simply a neutral, where everyone could just look away and pretend there is nothing to see, I have no problem with just ignoring the issue. I generally do, because there are many things it doesn't affect. The problem is that the people who want the Charles Murrays, and certainly the Greg Cochranes of the world to just shut up do themselves talk about race and IQ all the time. They talk about it by denying it, and insisting at every grade level through college and most graduate schools, and at every major magazine and news source, that environment is the cause of the gap. Our public policies in education, in job training, affirmative action and discrimination, are entirely founded on that assumption. Sometimes it is explicit, as in social science courses where the lack of genetic connection will be expressly asserted, but more often it is just part of the furniture. Making an assertion that something is not racial is just another way of bringing up race. It's unfair to then accuse others of "bringing race into it all the time."
So the answer to McWhorter’s question, a challenge to those who are “obsessed” with race and IQ, “What, precisely, would we gain from discussing this particular issue?” is We are already discussing it, all the time, but only one side gets to speak. The correct translation of McWhorter (though he likely doesn't intend it that way) is “What, precisely, would all of us gain from letting you talk back?”**
Let us here pile on and note that when they speak they offer the insult of "racist" about anyone who disagrees. It’s not a neutral discussion where one side is politely and reasonably avoiding confrontation, clucking at those "obsessed" fire-breathers who keep bringing up hurtful things all the time. There are some who do inject race into any discussion, who may fairly be called "obsessed." They seem about equal on all sides.
It gets worse, as this discussion usually does. McWhorter believes, and hopes very much that the science will eventually bear him out, that “culture” is a major driver of the gap, specifically “orality” versus “literacy.” (See first footnote.) He argues that culture persists over time, even when the reasons for it have vanished or even reversed. An oppressed group, especially one which came from a non-literate tribe, might regard literacy as less-important even when the oppression has lifted and incentives for literacy are great. That sounds very believable. It could well be so. Conservatives are actually very big on believing that cultural factors are a big deal. Many more of them tend to those explanations of fatherlessness, expectations, future-orientation, and diligence than to genetic explanations.
So now try to take that culture discussion national, hmm? When you open up the door that says “culture,” once you have gotten past the Originally Comes From Oppression part, you can’t say anything else. Let me correct myself. One can also say “If only those black children could be encouraged to understand that it’s worthwhile to do well in school.” Gosh darn it, why didn’t I think of that? Beyond that, "culture" is becoming a radioactive subject. Try and go public with what is essentially a “black people have to raise their kids different” answer. I don't want to go there myself, but it's sort of hard to avoid at that point, even though we didn’t mean to go there.
Try and have a discussion about culture that doesn't involve parenting.
It wasn’t where anyone wanted to go, but it once could be said by black people to each other, and the very liberal Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson used to do that. I’m not sure you can do even that now. I think that experiment has been run. If you want to go "culture," then Theodore Dalrymple, Thomas Sowell, and a dozen other guys you want nothing to do with are suddenly on the scene. Oh, and Charles Murray. I think that dog won't hunt myself, but you're welcome to try.
What has come from the culture emphasis is a rejection of the norms of success because those are called arbitrary white norms. That is partly true. But showing up on time is intimately related to a view of time that allows space launches, round-the-clock coverage for firemen and hospitals, paying people accurately, or the transportation of millions of people. The qualities one must learn to be a shepherd might be just as honorable, to man and to God, as the qualities of an accountant. But there just aren’t that many jobs for shepherds, and they don’t pay that well.
*But again - group IQ could be a sufficient explanation for orality versus literacy in both those instances. While culture looks like a possible explanation at first glance, we get into a cart/horse problem. The average white IQ in West Virginia is estimated at 95.1. We get into complicated discussions of what IQ actually measures, and how sensitive it is to whether your culture wants you to go to school, try hard on the test, or not. It may not be that low, and Massachusetts may not actually be as high as 104.4 (For reference, #5 - #47 is only a 4 point range, 98.4 - 102.4). The Uzbeks have been isolated since the Silk Road became obsolete when the Europeans got their sea-trading going, centuries ago. But McWhorter has already ceded those grounds for purpose of this discussion in his early paragraphs. Culture may derive from intelligence more than drive it.
**The answer might actually be “nothing.” The Assistant Village Idiot has no so-obvious-but-unspoken-advantages to point out. But I would like the question to be framed that way before answering, to illustrate that is what we are really talking about.